Sunday, July 31, 2011

Games People Play

I love board games especially those that involve just a little bit of strategy. When I spied a game called Power Grid sitting on the shelf of my local toy emporium, I just had to own it. Living in Japan where the threat of blackouts and, more frighteningly, the risk of radiation exposure all due to the broken nuclear power plants in Fukushima have made me think twice about our energy choices.

While many people are less than pleased with Japan’s investment in nuclear power, everyone in my family is extremely happy about my investment in Power Grid, the board game. It’s in a word, electrifying. Unlike a lot of digital games, this analog masterpiece is fun for the whole family and not just the nuclear family either. The game comes with a board that is essentially a map of cities in need of power and playing cards representing power facilities fueled by either coal, oil, nuclear, wind, solar resources and more. I like to collect the alternative energy cards because you don’t have to buy any of the game’s little resource chips to run them. The whole object of Power Grid is to supply the most cities with power. There’s one problem with the game though. If you try to win with alternative power alone, you’ll soon realize that the deck of cards that come in the box is stacked against you.

While I see this as a problem, my oldest son says it only adds to the realism of the game. He might be right. A recent report from the
Japan Today news web site notes how the mayor of Omaezaki in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture “criticized the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency after revelations continued to emerge that several electric power companies had been asked by the agency to have local residents pose questions in favor of Japan’s nuclear projects at symposiums." The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which falls under Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), is one of the country’s two nuclear watchdogs. 

Questions from opposition lawmakers regarding the unethical practice of rigging these town hall meetings on nuclear power reduced current METI head, Banri Kaieda to tears this Friday. Although Kaieda wasn't in charge of the ministry in 2007 when the meetings occurred(in fact the opposition party was in charge back then), it’s no doubt a political loss for him and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. I’ve seen the same kind of waterworks display while playing Power Grid, tear drops sometimes fall from the eyes of my youngest who often loses out due to a short-sighted strategy. Japan’s power grid games really aren’t too far away from the one played out on my kitchen table. Of course one big difference might be that human lives are at stake in the game Japan’s politicians are playing. No matter how you cut the cards, when the stakes are that high, playing with a stacked deck ought to be against the rules.

Related post: Nuclear Regulators Leave Kan to Fill in the Blanks

To learn more about Power Grid try watching Board Games with Scott on Youtube.


More Power Games

Watching the US congress and White House battle it out over the debt ceiling, reminds me of how politics are pretty much the same the world over. In the immediate aftermath of Japan's 3-11 disasters, rather than forging an alliance to pick up the pieces left in the wake of the killer quake and tsunami, the main opposition party (the Liberal Democratic Party or LDP) chose to sit back and just watch. Their plan it seems was to wait for the reigning party (the Democratic Party or DP) to stumble and then cash in on the political capital lost in their fall. Not to be outfoxed by their political foes it seems that the DP then decided to do nothing at all as well. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that it's impossible to fall from a supine position, even if it is lying down on the job. Maybe that explains why there really hasn't been any adequate accounting for radiation levels, etc. and why six months after disaster struck so many still have that sinking feeling. When it comes to power games the clear losers are always those of us relegated to the sidelines.

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